Case Law Review – T 1929/09


T 1929/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

Server-side web summary generation and presentation.

Claim 1 specified: an Internet Portal, comprising an Internet-connected server and a portal software executing on the server, including a summary software agent, wherein the Portal maintains a list of Internet destinations specific for a subscriber, and the summary software agent accesses the Internet destinations, retrieves information according to pre-programmed criteria, and summarizes the retrieved information for delivery to the subscriber.


The underlying idea was to facilitate the life of a user who normally had to provide some personal information for accessing certain web pages. This was deemed at first instance to be a non-technical problem.

The Board agreed with the Appellant that improving the allocation of resources on the Internet and reducing connection time between servers or between a server and a workstation are, in principle, technical problems. However, the Board held that an information service tailored to the needs of a particular user and limited to user-defined Internet destinations is essentially a business scheme. Thus, the mere idea of providing such a service cannot be regarded as a contribution to the solution of a technical problem.

Claim 1 was broad and lacked technical detail on a specific implementation; as such any technical features therein were deemed to be obviously required. The background of the invention was cited to support this point.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case Law Review – T 1866/08



Claimed Subject Matter:

Approach for tracking data (Yahoo! Inc.)

A method for operating an intermediary computer to track data requested by a user from a source server over a network, wherein the source server is arranged to communicate with the intermediary computer via a first network communications link, and the intermediary computer is arranged to communicate with the user via a second network communications link, the method comprising the computer-implemented steps of:

    • receiving (206), at the intermediary computer (104), the requested data from the source server (102); and
    • supplying (212), via the second network communications link, the requested data from the intermediary computer to the user (106);

characterised in that the method comprises the intermediary computer performing the steps of:

    • determining (208) whether the requested data includes rights data that indicates an owner of rights to the requested data; and
    • if the data includes the rights data:
      • (a) determining whether the source is associated with the owner of rights to the data; and
      • (b) if the source is not associated with the owner of rights to the requested data, then the intermediary computer not allowing the requested data to be supplied to the user; and
      • (c) if the source is associated with the owner of rights to the requested data, then the intermediary computer supplying the data to the user and recording (210) that the requested data was supplied.


The examination decision under appeal states that the difference between the claimed invention and the cited art  “merely” represents “the steps per formed by a data tracking and transmission system that implements rules about what to do with the traffic and registers th[ese] activities” and that the “task of tracking data traffic is a mere administrative task”.

In passing it is argued that these rules and tasks were well-known, for example from the “activity of a librarian registering incoming and outgoing books of the library”. The only technical features of claim 1 were merely “data transmission and data recording” and these were known from the prior art. The remaining features did not, so the argument, solve a technical problem but an administrative one, namely to “control the distribution of unauthorised data” which would belong to the non-technical “domain of the administration of property”. This difference, especially within the context of D1 which is already adapted to “[implement] rules driven by a detect ion event” (see again reasons 2.2), would amount to a mere automation of this administrative task, and if its performance were improved by the automation then only to the extent that any computer automation would cause such improvement, without any further technical effect. This difference could thus not establish an inventive step.

The board in the present appeal case takes a difference perspective on the invention.

The board concedes that the claimed invention has administrative aspects but considers that these cannot be stripped from the technical context in which they occur. The claimed invention relates to the “tracking” and delivery control of “data requested by a user from a source server over a network” in view of that source server. The board fails to see how this would be analogous to, let alone known from, the activity of a librarian “registering incoming and outgoing books of the library”, or why the skilled person trying to improve the system of D1, would turn to the activities of a librarian for help. The board also considers that the claimed invention goes beyond the mere implementation of a non-technical administrative task without any effect beyond the benefits of any computer automation (see decision under appeal, reasons 2.3, last sentence). Rather, in the board’s view, the effect of the invention over D1 is tied to a specifically technical situation, namely the request and download of data by a user over a network from a server, as is now clearly claimed. In this respect, the board agrees with the appellant in considering an automated, network-based mechanism to control and authorize the delivery of data as solving a technical problem (see grounds of appeal, point 3.16).

Case was remitted for further search as it was doubted whether the feature of delivery control was exhaustively searched:

    • Due to the fact that this feature was substantially less prominent in the claims of the originally examined application.
    • because the preamble of all claims by referring to “tracking data” rather than delivery control may have further detracted from the importance attached to this feature, and
    • because the examining division considered it to be of no technical relevance.

British Photographer v. Texan Pornographer

I read about this case last week. Although pretty straightforward from a legal point of view it made a good story: hard-working teenage amateur – check; evil Texan pornographer – check; lawyer-done-good – check; copyright issues – check; amusing email exchanges – check; and justice served – check.

I will leave the details of the story to Plagiarism Today and Eric Goldman (follow links). The photographer in question (Lara Jade Coton – who is now a bit older) writes about winning the case here.

An interesting point that arose was the separation in the US between copyright and publicity rights (see Eric Goldman’s report). Even if a photograph on the Internet appears to have a permissive (copyright) Creative Commons licence, if it features or references one or more people, and is used in advertising, you will also need to obtain permission from those people with regard to their publicity rights. This was apparently poorly considered by the court.

Another interesting aspect is the registration of copyright works in the US.  If the photograph in question had been registered in the US damages would have been a lot higher (in the end they were around $4k) and costs for attorneys fees may have been available. However, is it reasonable to expect a 14-year-old British amateur photographer to register her photos in the US? (Or even to know to do this?) What about a Flickr account with hundreds of photos? A quick glance at the US Copyright Office website shows that there is room for improvement in terms of usability and clarity; even the material for Teachers and Students is unclear as to the registration process (i.e. What exactly can be registered? What fees are required? How does registration function for works uploaded to Internet sites?)

In the present case, if there was no additional defamation action, it would likely not have been worth pursuing a copyright action. The issues with registration and enforcement raised by the case are not unique to the US; however, they again demonstrate that some form of global copyright is needed (e.g. to protect artists and their works) but that the present system(s) need revision in the Internet age.